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Should You Use A Popup Subscription Box On Your Blog?

By March 8, 2013June 28th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
Should You Use A Popup Subscription Box On Your Blog?

Ugh. I hate those popups! I bet you do too. Or, if hate is too strong a word, mild annoyance may suffice.

But doesn’t it seem like every site has one?

And you’re torn between the camp that tells you “it works!” and the camp that tells you “I’d never, ever, in a billion years and even if you were the last blog on earth sign up with one of those boxes.”

But you want to build your email list, so what’s a marketer to do?

Well, I’m not going to tell you. But I am going to tell you what I’ve done, what worked for me, and my opinion on the matter based on results I’ve seen and feedback I’ve gotten.

Popups: Why We Hate Them

I think it’s important, before you decide on any tactic, to understand the objections.

When it comes to popups, they’re often associated with spam, scams and advertising.

We got smart enough to block ads on sites so advertisers built a better mousetrap and showed them over sites. Of course, we can block popups now too, but they still persist in many forms and configurations.

And who isn’t offering some free download for the price of an email address? “Give something away” has become a marketing mantra and everyone has at least a few pages worth of an eBook for that purpose.

I don’t know about you but I have a very large folder full of free downloads. Some I wanted, and joined the list just to get them. Some I didn’t, but I wanted to be on the list and I got sent “the free thing”. I lie to myself and say that I’ll eventually read them all.

Of course, a pretty sad number of the ones I have read are junk.

So to some extent we associate those popups with their offers – the free things we probably aren’t going to read because if we did, we’d find it would probably suck anyway.

Finally, there’s the intrusion factor. When I visit a blog, I do it to read a specific piece of content that drew me there. One sentence in, the box floats up over the screen and I have to dismiss it (or sign up, but I’m too irritated about being interrupted to do that).

I’ve never met anyone who said, “Too bad that blog didn’t have a popup, or I might have signed up.”

But I know plenty of people – including me – who roll their eyes at the mere mention of one.

So we have objections, and they’re justified. The question is whether we can be smart marketers and get around them in order to use popups effectively.

The Problem Is That They Work

By “work” I mean “get people to sign up”.

It seems that in spite of our objections, statistics have proven out the fact that we still sign up when those boxes appear.

Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion wrote a great post on the topic of popups and makes the point that many of us don’t use popups on our blogs because we don’t like them. But “what we like” as a personal preference shouldn’t dictate “what we do” as effective marketers.

As one of those who falls squarely in the “I don’t like them” camp, I resisted using a popup for a long time. I wasn’t going to sell out!

My husband and business partner insisted that we have one. He’s the rational thinker in the room.

So I tested out a few – hated them all – finally succumbed to one – and guess what?

People signed up.

Can you say conflicted emotions? How could something so objectionable actually work? Who were these crazy people falling for my popup? But… awesome! New subscribers!

In the two months since I installed the popup, we’ve seen a steady increase in subscribe rate.

It hasn’t been magical – we aren’t adding an exponential number of subscribers every day – but I can see the analytics and I can tell you that the numbers don’t lie. They’ve gone up. More importantly, they’ve gone up specifically thanks to the popup. On average, the popup is responsible for about half of our subscriber growth on any given day.

But here’s the other important detail: we’re not giving anything away (yet!) and people are still subscribing.

So I’ve knocked out one of the common objections right there: people will subscribe via a popup even if you don’t bribe them. I’m curious to see what happens when we do have our first giveaway. Sounds like a good topic for a follow-up post.

How To Eliminate The “Annoying” From Popups

I still hate them – in that emotional way that is so hard to squash. I still cringe a bit when I admit that I use one.

But I have no plans to get rid of it. Until my stats prove otherwise, I’m going to do what works.

But there are a couple of things I’ve adjusted and a few things people have said – some directly to me, some as a general comment on the subject – that have affected how I use the popup.

Based on my experiences, here are a few tips for you to try.

1. Make it benefit-driven. Whether you’re giving something away or just asking for the email address, you still need to tell people what’s in it for them. When I first experimented with the popup, it was pretty generic. It did very little. But when I added a short list of “here’s what you’ll get”, that’s when I really saw the number of subscribes go up.

2. Watch the frequency. Popups that appear every single time I visit a blog really are annoying and disruptive – especially on blogs I visit daily or frequently. If you want regular readers, you need a blog for them and not just for the potential subscriber you could get. Remember, that subscriber is probably going to be a regular reader! I set the popup on this blog to appear every 60 days. It’s cookie-based, so it will only bug someone once every 60 days, assuming they don’t delete their cookies. So far, nobody has complained but people have mentioned that they don’t want to be bugged on every single visit.

3. Consider the timing. The popup I use can be set to show up the moment someone hits the page, or it can be delayed for a specified amount of time. It can also bet set to pop up when someone reaches the end of the post. I like this option because that means I’ve given someone the chance to read the post and decide whether the content is good before asking them to sign up. I don’t have enough history to tell you whether a quick popup or a delayed popup is more effective, but I can tell you anecdotally that someone just recently mentioned this very point to me, and said she appreciated that she had a chance to read the post before signing up.

4. Be mindful of mobile. Few things are as frustrating as getting stuck on a mobile site that has a popup that’s impossible to close. That means the content is impossible to read. That means I leave and don’t come back. I complained talked about this at length in a previous post so you can read the details there, but it’s something you absolutely must pay attention to.

5. Make your offer good. For the sake of aspiring popup users everywhere, do us all a favor and make sure your giveaway is worth its salt. It’s your reputation at stake. What’s the point of building an email list if people see you as a scammer or just someone who doesn’t deliver? A 30-second talking-head video, a ten page “eBook” (two of which are title pages, one a credit page and two for end covers) or one of those yawning email courses that you clearly dumbed down from a couple of blog posts is not a good offer. In fact, part of the reason why we don’t have an offer yet is because we’re still obsessively editing and making sure it’s not an eye-roller. It has to be good. We don’t plan to disappoint our readers and subscribers by doing the cheap-bribe thing and you shouldn’t either.

Will It Work For You?

There’s only one answer to that question: try it!

Get over your emotional objections, stop worrying about “the giveaway” and just try it. It takes a few minutes to set up and you can start tracking analytics to see if your subscription rate increases.

You can test timing and styles.

You can test frequency.

Most importantly you can stop wondering about whether popups work and know whether popups work – for you, which is really all that matters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you use a popup? How has it worked for you? What are your best-practices? Have you ever used one and given up? Are you still resisting? What are your objections or concerns?

Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Ah yes – the age old question: Do the ends justify the means? I think in your case you’ve found a good compromise. And your settings must rock because I’m on your list so I never see the pop-up. On my site I have one of those slide outs. It comes out from the bottom right corner once people get to the end of the page or post. And I do see about 50% (ish) of my subscribers coming from there. The next biggest converter is an opt-in “sales” page I created just for my “newsletter.” It’s good to test!

    • I think there’s a compromise somewhere between “never” and “omg, that thing pops up in my face every time”. I am probably not being as aggressive as most people because I have it set to pop up for new visitors – but then only once every 60 days. If someone doesn’t want to sign up today, what makes me think they’ll be more inclined to do so tomorrow with the same box in their face? Besides, I would rather not annoy my regular readers!

  • I feel like you about pop-ups. I really need to bite the bullet. I am redesigning my download so I’ll start doing the popup once that is done! I’m glad I am not the only who feels this way.

    • It’s a conundrum for sure. But nobody has complained…. yet 🙂 And it’s worked for me. I’ve tried to be not-so-bothersome about it and so far so good. It’s worth a test!

  • Nina Anthony says:

    This topic just came up in a recent conversation with a client who was thinking about using a pop-up when they redesign their blog. My reaction was, “I hate pop-ups! But statistics show they work.” I’m curious as to what pop-up vendor you ended up using. Would you mind sharing some of the vendors you reviewd and why you ended up choosing who you did?

    • Hi Nina,

      I think it’s worth a test – start slow, it doesn’t have to poop up every single time on every page – as long as it’s not throwing people off or getting complaints, keep testing!

      To be honest I can’t recall the 2 other vendors I tried now…. but currently I’m using Pippity and its the one I found easy to set up and it looks pretty nice right out of the box.I have “design popup box” on my list of things to do but it’s pretty far down since I don’t really have to do anything and it looks fine.

      It lets you set a bunch of options like how long before it pops up, how often, which pages, whether you want to use a graphic (like if you’re offering a free download or video or something). You can pick colors, fonts and if you’re handy with CSS you can add your own custom CSS.

      Oh, and it works. I had a lot of aggravation getting others to work and finally gave up. This one is pretty seamless and I’m not a technical person.

      And the analytics are nice, too – you can see how many impressions it got and what your signup rate is for any given day.

      If I can find what those other vendors are I’ll let you know!

  • BrentCarnduff says:

    Great article Carol Lynn – a topic that I’ve been debating recently. I do HATE them, but I keep hearing that they work. I like the idea of customizing when, where and how often they appear. Can I as which pop-up you are using?

    • Thanks, I debated it a lot too! I also have tried a bunch of settings which it’s nice to be able to do. I’m using Pippity. It’s easy to set up and customize and has a lot of nice options.

  • I love you Carol Lynn…I have been a stalker of yours…figured it’s time to comment when it’s NOT the carnival :)! you reallllllllllllllyyyyyy hit home with this one! I saw Tea share the topic on my phone, even commented on her Facebook and then to my delight it was your post! (had not stalked you yet! 🙂 )…but every word was as if I said them myself. I have one on my site but not for sign ups and I really hate it too…it’s one of those here are other posts…but I have used them on clients sites and never saw an increase…so took them off…BUT I think your tips are awesome so gonna experiment on “their” sites and see what happens. The Gemini in me see’s both sides of it and if I am going to truly support their marketing I should at least test it.(on their sites)..especially after reading this!

    • Yah! I have a cool stalker! I’m glad you liked this post, Michelle and I wrote it mainly because I think it’s important sometimes to get a “real world” view of things. There’s a lot of advice about how to and how not to do plenty of things but when there’s a practical application to learn by, that makes it even better!

      I was nagged (not naming names…. ahem:::husband….) to put that popup on this site and I didn’t want to. Finally gave in. And got to see the effects for myself. Of course I tinkered with it six ways to Sunday and still do… but I feel like I’ve found a good compromise between annoying and invisible. I bet I could boost my subscription rate even more if I showed it constantly but then that would really be annoying. And all those subscribers would just become very annoyed readers.

      There is pretty much always 2 sides to something (or more!) so test, test, test. If it doesn’t work, nix it. But there’s only one way to find out!

      PS: Feel free to stalk any time 🙂

  • Donna Merrill says:

    Oh those nasty pop-ups! I just hate them! BUT……
    In doing research it is needed. I am working on one at this time. The tips you mention are the strategy I’m using. First. Where do I want it popping up on my blog? Then working on the “benefit” in just a few short words. Yikes..that’s taking me some time to do. Then, making sure my offer is good. I don’t want it to go to a video of someone else! I want it to be something of mine (which is just about completed lol)
    Then I have to consider the timing. I do feel that it is important to have a pop up a few seconds after someone opens the page. I don’t want them to run away like I do he he.
    One thing I didn’t take into consideration was to be mindful of mobile! Oh Carol thanks for that one as I build my pop up!
    I know we don’t like them but they are necessary in today’s market.
    Thanks so much for explaining it and also for the things I forgot to do as I’m building this.


    • I’m glad I could add a few tidbits for you 🙂 It’s a bit of a Catch-22 because I don’t want to create an experience for my readers that I wouldn’t like myself…. but I experimented and it did work to boost subscriptions. So how to make it work without being annoying? Timing, interest level, all that good stuff. I think it’s worth testing different things because what “we” like (or not!) isn’t the same for everyone!

  • I have recently deactivated my pop-up plugin from my blog, in favor of a more user friendly and beneficial solution for my readers. The plugin that I am using now is called Premium Viral Magnet.

    • Interesting… how is it working out for you? Is that one of those types of boxes that slides out at the bottom of the post? I know a lot of people who use that type of box who swear by it. I’d be curious at some point to try another option and see what happens!

      • Hi Carol, It is working out fine, no it is not one of the slide out of the bottom type. The plugin that I used before had that as one of it’s features. Premium Viral Magnet is what I would call an incentive plugin.

        In a nutshell, it works by me offering a free gift in exchange for someone sharing one of my blog posts. The more the person shares, the more gifts he or she will get. There are maximum of 5 free gifts on offer.

        • Ah, that sounds like a neat idea! So it’s not as much to get subscribers as to get promotion. Nice idea. Sounds like you did a lot of content creation for ll that free stuff 🙂 Do you also use it to get subscribers or just shares? Sounds like it might be something interesting to try out.

          • Hi Carol, that is the beauty of the plugin, the person must subscribe first. Before they can gain access to their free gifts. Premium Viral Magnet is quite a complicated plugin to set up. But in the long run I think that it will be worth it.

          • Cool, thanks for the info. I’m always up for something new!

  • I with you Carol Lynn. Absolutely hate those popups and use them sparingly. Even when I’ve used them I didn’t see much of an increase in subscribers so your tips give me something to look at and evaluate. I’ll take a good look and see what I can do. Thanks. Barbara

    • Results for everyone are different! Some people swear by them others hate and refuse to use them. This was my experience and some things that helped, so maybe they’ll help you too! Or maybe popups aren’t right for you. It’s something to test, though. Also a lot of people swear by that slide-out box for signups that comes at the very bottom of a post.

  • Excellent guide..

  • Alright. A confession. When I saw the title of this post, I almost didn’t bother to read it. Should I have a pop up subscription window on my blog? Obviously not! I hate those things! But then I read your article . . . nodding along for the first bit, feeling dismayed and betrayed by the second bit, and then reluctantly agreeing that I need to actually test the idea before I just toss it aside. Now I’m looking at a few different pop up subscription box services.

    • Erica, I love how you practically went through the stages of grief reading this post 🙂 And finally acceptance…

      One thing I struggle with frequently is that I often think that because I feel a certain way about something, other people surely must! Popups drive me nuts… so everyone else must hate them too! And indeed many people do, but many do not.

      I do believe there can be a middle ground between bugging someone every time they hit your site and completely avoiding popups. I’ve set the one we use to be as unobtrusive as possible. With that said, have you noticed it? Has it been an annoyance to you? Just curious because I’m a tweak-nut and I’ll change those settings 20 more times today if if makes things better!

      • I did go through the stages of grief! But I reluctantly realized that I might just be biting off my nose to spite my face (which I’m quite good at, even though it is never a good idea). I also love the middle ground. I don’t have to create a pop up that is in your face every time you visit my site. The pop up here has been just fine. I remember seeing it, but I haven’t found it at all annoying (and some of ’em annoy the crap out of me). So far, so good!

  • Yes and no. From my experience, if you are desperate to get readers and members, yes you can do that but put on timer or something.

    If the pops up straight opens up when the page load, then it could be rather … annoying 🙂

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      They can definitely be annoying if they pop up constantly. I think there is a balance between a popup that annoys people and one that works. Set it so it pops up at an appropriate time – and that’s it.